Craig Fleming talks about how social media’s picture-perfect culture is creating a growing demand for dental services, however professionalism should not be put aside for profits.

In this digital age that shows no signs of slowing, the impact that social media is having on popular culture is evident for all – from instigating and shaping countless trends, to bringing us closer than ever before to those celebrities we aspire to be like, to even determining what makes it into the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (such has been the power of the selfie phenomenon, for example).

The modern-day concept of beauty has always been shaped by the media and those with influence. Drawing inspiration from your go-to social media profiles isn’t actually any different from women changing their hairstyle to look like Marilyn Monroe. But what clearly is new, is the abundance and availability of images online that drive consumers to take action.

It goes without saying that we are seeing the rise of social media affecting the demand for services from dental professionals, particularly cosmetic. The supposed beauty of celebrities has always been something we strive to emulate, but now more than ever, the obsession to be ‘perfect’ is more apparent. But why?

Is it down to more people having disposable income? Figures would suggest not, but there is a shift in how younger generations spend what they do have. Higher media consumption is impacting the purchase decisions of men and women of all occupations and income levels, who are seeking everything from a new wardrobe, to body enhancements such as achieving perfect teeth.

So, while this is something the industry should embrace, there are also a number of things dental professionals should consider.

Unrealistic goals

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for patients to find dentists via social networks like Instagram. These platforms, when used appropriately, can be a good indicator of a practitioner’s experience, professionalism, personality, and portfolio for the kinds of procedures they offer. In fact, some dentists are even taking photography courses in order to develop their skills for the purpose of sharing ‘before-and-after’ photos to educate and engage with new patients and remain competitive in the market.

However, whilst social media serves as a great source for both education and connection, when practitioners use it irresponsibly to promote quick-fix, risk-free solutions in lay terms to appeal to the masses, it may well give patients unrealistic and unattainable goals regarding their likely outcome – remember, these procedures aren’t cheap, so we have a responsibility to advise patients honestly on their investment.

Therefore, it’s key that practitioners put professionalism before profits and manage the expectations of their patient. Thankfully the wider education piece of opting for reputable, registered and qualified medical professionals to carry out any procedures, is now being listened to and playing its part in driving down the horror stories and cases of malpractice.

I’ve personally, on many occasions, still had to talk the long game with many of my patients who want to explore cosmetic treatments. It is crucial that a patient is able to make an informed decision about the potential risks, benefits, costs and longer-term impacts of any treatment choices they make. For example, making the decision to go ahead with veneers in your 20s means you may have six further sets to pay for in your lifetime (if you live to the average UK life expectancy of 80), which is something most patients may be unaware of. It’s our role to open up a healthy discussion with patients to answer questions and inform them of all aspects of treatments, including the longer-term plan for their overall oral health.

As an individual I am an avid social media user and feel it has many more benefits than flaws. Since its conception it has helped drive awareness in the dental profession, and if anything, I have seen a rise in patients caring more about their oral health and making timely appointments in a bid to naturally improve the way their teeth look. I am all for helping my patients achieve a beautiful, healthy smile and feel confident about the way their teeth look, but firstly it’s my job to ensure I have mapped out all the details of any treatment and evaluate if it’s achievable and ethical for the person sat in my chair.